This biography of Albert Einstein was an odd pick for me, inasmuch as I don’t know the first thing about physics. And hardly care. I was interested in Einstein’s personal history as a German Jewish intellectual in the time that Germany was coming apart.
Isaacson gave me what I wanted. And the science, too.
Here’s what I found interesting: Einstein renounced his German citizenship as a young man, when he went to Switzerland. His first wife was…Serbian, if I remember correctly..and apparently, they had a daughter before they were married that somehow disappeared from history. The predominant theory is the child died in the care of a family friend before the Einsteins could reclaim her. The theory continues that the first wife never quite forgave him. After several years and two more children, and a return to Germany, they separated. Thus ends the tabloid-y part.
So why did Einstein go back to Germany? It sounds to me like it was partly money, but also that Germany was where the action was in the scientific community at the time. At least among physicists. And when the Nazis came to power, they were reviled and bailed out – many to the U.S. Einstein was here when he heard that Hitler had been elected.
Toward the end, there are many anecdotes about Einstein’s FBI file and communist ties and McCarthy. I like that for all his iconoclastic behavior, Einstein maintained that his questions of authority were consistent with the very spirit on the U.S. Constitution. I have often heard that foreign-born Americans “get it” better than many native-born. The privilege and responsibility of the Freedom of Expression. He also reserved the right to change his mind, upon the entrance of new evidence.
Toward the end, Isaacson makes a really cool observation:
Einstein was convinced that the U.S. was heading down the path of the fascists in the early 1950s. By the end, though, he had figured us out, “…somehow they manage to return to normality. Everything – even lunacy – is mass produced here. But everything goes out of fashion very quickly.”